One of the more troublesome behaviors of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients is the tendency wander off. Even during the early stages of the disease this condition can be problematic. If a patient still possesses the ability to walk, then things can become dicey when mobility is combined with forgetfulness. Even mild bouts of forgetfulness can quickly become a critical situation if an AD patient ventures off unaccompanied and momentarily becomes disoriented. Not recognizing what were once familiar surroundings can bring on panic and can rapidly escalate into a precarious situation. The patient then becomes vulnerable to accident or foul play such as robbery or assault. The first line of defense is vigilance on the part of caregivers, but with advances in technology, there are additional preventative measures as well as methods to track and locate patients that manage to elude first line measures.
Beyond precautions such as carefully structuring daily routines to keep the patient engaged and anticipating his/her personal needs for bathroom trips and mealtimes, there are several technology options available to intercept and monitor unsupervised excursions from home. Alarm and home security companies offer capabilities to monitor when doors and windows are opened while the occupants are at home. Some systems track the patient’s proximity from a base station using a transmitter worn on the patient’s ankle. When the patient exceeds the specified perimeter an alarm is activated alerting caregivers. It’s not possible to be with an AD patient at all times and even brief moments alone can present an opportunity to exit the protective confines of the home. Receiving an alert in the form of an audible alarm or receiving a notification on a mobile device can provide the opportunity to intercept a patient before he/she is able to venture far.
Senior alert systems may be an option for AD patients in the earlier stages of the disease. These systems provide a pendant or bracelet with a button that may be pressed in the event of an emergency. Comprehensive reviews and evaluations of the top medical alert systems are available at ConsumerReports.org. For in depth discussions of what these systems are and the various types available please visit SeniorAlertSystems.com. Strategies for dealing with wandering dementia patients and electronic systems for monitoring their movements can be found at Alz.org. Granted, these systems are only effective when within range of a base station, but they can provide an added feeling of security for the patient when caregivers are not in view. The risk of false alarms is higher with AD patients and others with dementia, so it’s important to assess the effectiveness of such as system with a particular patient.
For situations when an AD patient has managed to leave home unsupervised, there are several strategies that can be used to quickly and safely locate them. Sometimes the patient will attempt to go to a former place of employment or wish to visit a friend or relative or even a place where they once lived. Having a list of these potential destinations at the ready consisting of addresses, phone numbers, and point of contact can be a potential lifesaver. Modern technology provides tracking solutions in the form of GPS tracking devices. These devices come in several formats, but all rely on a GPS navigation system to track users. The tracking device may be worn as a bracelet or even within the soles of a specially-made shoe. In the event that a patient has wandered off, caregivers can contact a monitoring center which can obtain a highly accurate location of the patient and then dispatch emergency responders.